CHARLOTTE – Providence Day’s early-season football schedule didn’t have the toughest of opponents on it, so the Chargers matchup with rival Country Day on Sept. 20 was the first real test they would face.
The Bucs had come in with all of the hype. They were 4-0 for the first time in a while and coming off their first state championship in nearly a decade when they captured the NCISAA Division II title last fall.
The Chargers, who came into the game 3-0 so far, were coming off a season in which they reached the Division I title game but ended up with a hugely disappointing 5-6 record.
If the Bucs didn’t have enough momentum, the start of the game couldn’t have gone worse for Providence Day.
Chargers senior quarterback Cody Cater threw an interception under a minute into the game deep in Providence Day territory.
The Bucs would stall out but take a 3-0 lead on a field goal.
After the ensuing Providence Day drive stalled, the Bucs got the ball back but couldn’t move it either. As they lined up to punt, a Charger player jumped offsides, giving Country Day a first down and a second chance that would lead to a Russell Tabor to Stephen Payne touchdown pass and a 9-0 Charger deficit.
But there was no panic, and they would rebound in a big way, beating Country Day 28-16 in a game that didn’t feel quite that close.
“It’s an awesome team win for us,” Cater said. “We came into this game as underdogs. They were ranked ahead of us and everyone thought they were going to beat us, but we were fired up and ready to go. We knew we needed to dominate and come out early. After I threw that pick, the team wasn’t phased and came out and scored three straight touchdowns to go up before half. It shows a lot about our team and what we’ve created here.”
Cater would close the first half with touchdown passes to Jesiah Davis and Nickel Fields, who also scored on a rushing touchdown early in the second quarter.
Cater finished the game 21-of-33 for 233 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Davis, who caught seven passes for 127 yards and the touchdown was Cater’s favorite target, but six players caught passes in the game.
“(Davis and I) have been working all spring, summer and after school just trying to get our timing down and it’s starting to show up now. He’s a guy I can rely on, but matchups decide where we go with it,” Cater said. “We have talent all over the field with our outside, slot guys and now with Nickel back (from a season-ending injury last year) at running back and I have confidence in all of those guys. I’m really excited about this season.”
While Cater and the offense did more than enough to get the win, the best news for the Chargers is on the other side of the ball, and especially up front at defensive line.
Country Day came into the game with an above-average line and quarterback, but Kedrick Bingley-Jones, Jacolbe Cowan, Zach Lohavichan and Jackson Concannon created havoc all night.
Country Day threw four interceptions, and Tabor could only complete 12-of-30 passes while being under constant duress from some combination of the four.
“A big thing is our preparation and the way that we work in the offseason and then coming into the season,” said Cowan, a 6-5, 270-pound senior ranked the No. 7 overall recruit in the country and the No. 15 defensive tackle in the nation. “It’s a great group of guys. Coach tells us to not take plays off and that’s what we’re doing. We try to be active all game.”
Bingley-Jones is a six-foot-five, 270-pound strongside end. He’s a North Carolina commit ranked one spot ahead of Cowan in state and national recruiting lists.
With Concannon (6-3, 265) and Lohavichan (6-3, 245) joining the mix, the Chargers are as talented as they’ve been up front in a while.
“We have the mentality that we are going to do what it takes to dominate up front in every game and on every play,” Lohavichan said. “That’s all we’re thinking of.”
In the Country Day game, Cowan made the biggest statement, intercepting a Tabor pass deep in Charger territory and rumbling and juking nearly 70 yards down the field.
It was by far his longest run of his career, and his linemates joked he looked like he was a nimble running back out there.
“I think my head was just racing like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go and I have to get to the end zone,” Cowan said. “I just turned my head and it was full speed ahead for me.”
Cowan didn’t find the end zone, but he and his mates helped change the game have the Chargers off to a 4-0 start.
“We got that first conference win and now we have to keep it rolling,” Cowan said. “It was a great team effort, everyone played well, we fought through adversity and we prevailed so we’re looking forward to next week.”